Dodging Cosmic Bullets

The Instapundit points to this article in the BBC. Apparently, a 300-meter object came within a whisker (in cosmological terms, as such things go–it was not quite as close as the Moon) of hitting us. If it had, it would have been a very bad day for whichever continent it hit, unless it hit in the ocean (actually more likely, since that’s what constitutes a majority of the earth’s surface), in which case all of the surrounding coastlines, and objects on their edge, would have been temporarily moved inland a few hundred miles.

Dr Benny Peiser of Liverpool John Moores University, UK, told BBC News Online: “The fact that this object was discovered less than a month ago leads to the question of if we would have had enough time to do anything about it had it been on a collision course with us.

“Of course the answer is no; there is nothing we could have done about it.

“It is a reminder of the objects that are out there. It is a reminder of what is going to happen unless we track them more efficiently than we do and make better preparations to defend our planet,” says Dr Peiser.

Glenn correctly points out that one of the reasons that having robust space capabilities (I really dislike the term space program, because it connotes so much of what’s wrong with the way that we do space) is important is that because until we have large-scale habitation off planet, our species (and most others on the planet) will remain vulnerable to this “all eggs in one basket approach.”

But there’s one other comment to make. In the above quote, in which Dr. Peiser says “there is nothing we could have done about it,” the tense is correct, but it implies that this condition was inevitable, and will remain true forever, when in fact, with different choices made decades ago, there might have been something that we could have done about it.

Also, we may be able to do things about it in the future, even with only a month’s warning, or even a week. But it means getting serious about developing space capabilities. Unfortunately, space remains unimportant to the nation, and NASA is important only to those who directly benefit from the pork that it generates. In order for this to change, events like this need to get more publicity, and the public discourse on the subject has to get much more thoughtful.